Latin America shifts toward Pacific possibilities

Source:Global Times Published: 2015-1-12 20:43:01

Luis Guillermo Solis Photo: Li Aixin/GT

Editor's Note:

The first ministerial meeting on cooperation between China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) concluded in Beijing on January 9. The recent years have witnessed intensifying cooperation between China and Latin America. What has driven this trend? How will the US react to this move in an area it has traditionally considered its own? Global Times (GT) reporter Li Aixin interviewed Costa Rica President Luis Guillermo Solis (Solis) over these issues. 

GT: Costa Rica has assumed the presidency of CELAC. How do you comment on the China-CELAC Forum?

Solis: This is one of the clearest examples of the end of the Monroe Doctrine that for many years prevented Latin America from dealing and speaking with powers that were not the US.

Not that dialogue with the US should be interrupted. We will continue it. The forum simply allows Latin America to diversify its international relations and makes the world a different place. Now we have a relationship between the world's emerging power, which is China, and one of the world's potentially most significant regions, which is Latin America. So, I attribute the highest importance to the inauguration of this forum. And I wish it well, because I hope, as a result of this, the world will be safer, and our region will be better off for the next many years.

GT: Globalization is a global trend and CELAC is an example of a decade-long push for deeper integration within the Americas. What do you think are the prospects of the integration of Latin America?

Solis: Integration is a historical aspiration of Latin America. My personal view is that we should be working or seeking unity in diversity. And we should not push integration beyond what is reasonable. One of the reasons why integration has been slow in the Americas has to do with asymmetries between the countries, the differences that separate one country from the other. As long as these asymmetries remain, it is going to be very difficult for integration to take place.

GT: China has been looking to Latin America for new markets and opportunities. How do you define the nature of the relationship between China and Latin America?

Solis: I think China has been very wise in understanding the role and the potential of Latin America and the Caribbean as a source of its benefits for international policy. I have seen a certain neglect on the part of the US toward Latin America for many years. They do not have a vision for Latin America as a whole. When one studies US policy, one sees the US looking at specific countries, but they don't have a vision for the whole. The Chinese government and the CELAC community have been able to put together a vision, and this is what has been released and announced in Beijing.

Probably there will be concerns that will be voiced by the US, but they could do something similar. They could begin seeking for these opportunities, in not necessarily the same way. As far as I see it, this is not a question of geopolitical competition. China is not seeking that. China is looking at Latin America and the Caribbean as a source of benefits and it has been very respectful, in putting forward this vision, as a shared responsibility.

GT: As you have said, we are not seeking any conflict, however, there have been concerns with China's intensifying engagement in Latin America in the US. Will there be growing conflicts of interests between the two powers in Latin America?

Solis: I hope not, though it could happen. China sometimes feels uneasy with the presence of the US in Japan or in South Korea, and it feels uncomfortable with certain initiatives such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and others, so I can foresee that similar situation may arise in the case of China in Latin America, the US may feel awkward with the very strong commitment of China in the region.

So I can see this occurring, but I hope we will be able to surpass those doubts and concerns, demonstrating that there should be no fear of unduly interventionist policy in the part of the Chinese government.

GT: How does Costa Rica see China in its foreign policy? What can the two countries do to further deepen the bilateral relations?

Solis: Costa Rica is a very small country. We have 4.5 million inhabitants, that is the size of a small neighborhood of Beijing. We are a very small economy and China is a world giant. So, keeping up to the expectations of a giant in this logic of mutual partnership will not be easy.

We have to look for a balance, but there are certain areas in which we can be very competitive, where this new logic can operate very well. Tourism is one of them, for example. The growth of tourism from China is going to increase significantly over the next few years.

We are seeking for example direct flights from China to Costa Rica. We are thinking of Chinese investments getting to Costa Rica, to use Costa Rica as a continental platform for activities elsewhere. Costa Rica is the only country with full diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China in Central America.

We consider China a very important partner. We have a traditional foreign policy that does not look at Asia. Traditionally we have seen the US and the EU as our most significant partners, and we also pay a lot of attention to Central America, less to the rest of Latin America, though we are trying to correct that vision under my administration.

But the horizon of growth lies on the Pacific, and Costa Rica is in many ways a Pacific nation as well. Therefore, We should begin looking at the Pacific basin including China as a most significant actor and as the area where we should be extending many of our efforts in the future.

Yu Jincui contributed to this story

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